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MENA pay TV market set for huge growth

pay tv market|By TAP Staff|Last year the Pay TV market in the MENA region grew 11.2 percent in terms of market share and 14.13 percent in terms of subscriber numbers, according to the findings of the latest Middle East Media Market report released by IHS, a leading global source of business information and insight.

Over the last decade (2004 – 2013) the number of primary Pay TV subscribers almost quadrupled from 1.33 million in 2004 to 4.35 million in 2013, growing at an annual average rate of 14.64 percent. Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain account for two out of three Pay TV households (or 66 percent of the total). There are huge disparities in the uptake of Pay TV services across the region where UAE has the highest penetration rate at 85 percent and Egypt the lowest with just 2.4 percent.

2013 growth was primarily supported by an impressive rise in satellite operator OSN’s customers; High IPTV uptake contributed equally to last year’s Pay TV growth

Dubai-based OSN executed a policy of attracting new customers (through acquisitions and enrichment of its content offer) and of targeting new markets that has paid off. Between Q4 2012 and Q4 2013, OSN’s subscriber base increased by 32.3 percent.

One in four Pay TV households (25.56 percent) now take an IPTV offer while just four years earlier (in 2009) only one out of 15 Pay TV households subscribed to an IPTV package. IPTV uptake was highest in the UAE and Qatar. In the UAE, IPTV is the largest Pay TV platform, accounting for 70.82 percent of the market, while in Qatar, Ooredoo’s IPTV service (Mozaic TV) controls the largest market share among all Pay TV operators with 32 percent.

For the vast majority of MENA countries, satellite continues to be the pre-eminent service for receiving television signals, both encrypted and free-to-air (FTA). In 2013 it exceeded a 90 percent primary TV set penetration rate among all TV households. In the Pay TV landscape, satellite is slightly less salient, due in part to the existence of IPTV. According to IHS data, at the end of 2013 satellite controlled 74.4 percent of the Pay TV market while IPTV’s share stood at 25.56 percent.

The report notes that BeIN Sports Arabia (formerly known as Al Jazeera Sports) and OSN have managed to attract the vast bulk of satellite subscribers establishing a virtual duopoly in the market. Since 2009 (year of the merger between Showtime and Orbit to form OSN, and the year of Al Jazeera’s acquisition of all ART sports channels), the combined market share of BeIN Sports Arabia and OSN fluctuated between 85 percent and 82 percent. The recent acquisition of the English Premier League rights by BeIN Sports Arabia as well as the acquisition of South-Asian Pay TV operator Pehla by OSN will further reinforce this trend, according to IHS.

The report points out that a large HD channel offer is not complemented by a clear and concrete monetization strategy.

The HD channels offer in the MENA region experienced an explosive growth from just two HD channels in 2009 to 158 in the first two months of 2014. However, 71 HD channels, or around 45 percent of the total offer, are being provided for free. The free HD offer in MENA is higher than the total HD offer in countries like Italy, Spain, Russia, Australia and South Africa. Pay TV operators do not have a policy of up-selling their HD content. My-HD Media, a Dubai-based channel aggregator, is testing the waters launching in mid-2013 a low-cost offer of HD channels tied with the purchase of a specific set-top box with no further subscription charges for the first 12 months.